Does Taking Fenugreek Increase Breast Milk Supply?

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The short answer to this question is: No one knows. There is no evidence that Fenugreek works to increase breast milk production and no evidence that it doesn't work to increase milk supply.

"The galactogogue effect of fenugreek may be primarily psychological in humans;[12] however, animal studies indicate that fenugreek might work primarily by increasing insulin and oxytocin secretion.[13] Evidence for a galactogogue effect is mostly anecdotal. A limited number of published studies of low to moderate quality have found mixed results for a galactogogue effect for fenugreek.[14-17] A meta-analysis of controlled studies found fenugreek to have a mild galactogogue effect and unknown safety profile.[13] Some evidence indicates that fenugreek might be more effective in the first few days postpartum than after 2 weeks postpartum.[18] Some of these studies used a multi-ingredient combination products in which fenugreek was only one component, so the results might be different from studies in which fenugreek was used alone. Galactogogues should never replace evaluation and counseling on modifiable factors that affect milk production.[19,20]" - NCBI Fenugreek

I chose to write this post because almost every other mom blog out there, especially ones that support breastfeeding, praises fenugreek as if it is some magical cure to low milk supply. As someone who experienced low supply and saw a lactation consultant about it, this is just a slap in the face and so I decided to do my own research.

I have had some breastfeeding moms claim that "Big Pharma" is the reason why fenugreek isn't talked about. The thing is, if fenugreek was proven to work, "Big Pharma" would totally jump on it and turn it into a pill. After all, what struggling mom out there wouldn't jump at the chance to take a daily pill if it was guaranteed to boost her milk supply? They would totally be making money off it. The fact that they aren't using fenugreek to make medicine just shows that they aren't confident enough in its abilities to increase milk supply, which should make us hesitant as well, right?

Well, the thing is Fenugreek is regarded as "safe" (source), so even if there is no evidence that it works or doesn't work, it's not going to kill you if you take it. After all, there are women who claim it works, but as Toronto pediatrician, Jack Newman, says "They seem to, and many mothers swear by their effect, but the placebo effect of any medication is very powerful" (source).

I am a firm believer in the placebo effect, which is why I believe it is hard for researchers to determine if Fenugreek actually works for increasing breastmilk supply. They are also probably lacking the funding and resources to continue doing research. even provides a list of studies where the majority of the results aren't even useful. The studies were flawed, either lacking control groups, or had Fenugreek mixed with other herbs, so they can't determine which one actually helped, or if it even did (source).

I put "safe" in quotes above because there are still side effects and risks of taking Fenugreek. The big thing is to not take it when pregnant as it can cause uterine contractions (source). Here is what WebMD lists for Fenugreek side effects:

"Side effects include diarrhea, stomach upset, bloating, gas, and a "maple syrup" odor in urine. Fenugreek can cause nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, facial swelling, and severe allergic reactions in hypersensitive people" (source).

Also, it seems the medical community is hesitant to say it's "safe," without some kind of "maybe" wordage in front of it. For example, this is what WebMD says about Fenugreek for breastfeeding:

"Fenugreek is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth to increase breast-milk flow in the short-term. Some research shows that taking 1725 mg of fenugreek three times daily for 21 days does not cause any side effects in infants" (source). 

"Fenugreek is "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) as a flavoring by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration." (source)

Another thing to keep in mind is that Fenugreek is considered a supplement, so in that case, it's not entirely FDA approved:

"Dietary supplements do not require extensive pre-marketing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers are responsible to ensure the safety, but do not need to prove the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements before they are marketed. Dietary supplements may contain multiple ingredients, and differences are often found between labeled and actual ingredients or their amounts. A manufacturer may contract with an independent organization to verify the quality of a product or its ingredients, but that does not certify the safety or effectiveness of a product." (source)

This post isn't meant to scare, but to inform. Fenugreek should only be used as a last resort, as the popular breastfeeding site, Kelly Mom, states:

"Keep in mind that in almost all cases, non-pharmaceutical methods of increasing milk supply should be tried first, as there can be significant side effects from both herbal remedies and prescription medications used to increase milk supply." (source)

One study also came to this conclusion:

"Nonpharmacologic recommendations should be exhausted before adding therapy. Although anecdotal evidence encourages the use of metoclopramide, fenugreek, asparagus, and milk thistle for their galactogogue properties, efficacy and safety data in the literature are lacking. Oxytocin and domperidone are potentially available for compounding purposes, but safety data are limited. More studies are needed to evaluate the effects of available galactogogues on breast milk production." (source)

After having done the research, I chose not to go the Fenugreek route and instead turned to formula. To me there just wasn't enough research to guarantee its safety and/or if it even works to boost supply. Others obviously feel differently. My goal is to get the information out there so others can make an informed decision rather than believing what they hear from word of mouth. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


Attribution: Image used in blog post photo does not belong to me and was found on pixabay.